Mind the Millennial Gap

How many times has the ‘M-word’ come up lately in meetings? “We need to reach a new audience – the millennials.” “Why aren’t we getting traction with millennials?” “The millennials are the future. Find them.” These are phrases every marketer has probably heard from their leadership and/or uttered themselves.

We get it. Millennials are important. And in some cases, they are the answer to solidifying the success of your brand. After all, they represent about $600B of spending power each year and are on track to surpass $1 trillion a year by 20201. There’s only one problem, all millennials aren’t created equal. There exists a wide gap between the ends of the millennial age spectrum (18 to 36).

It doesn’t take a lot of mental gymnastics to realize that a father of two who has been married for 10 years and owns his own house might have different spending habits and media behavior than a teenager who is navigating things like college applications and internships. The fact that so many marketers fail to understand this simple reality is not only crazy, but also incredibly costly to their business.

The lesson here is simple: this isn’t the Electoral College where winning the majority grants you the entire state. It is important for marketers to understand the nuances that exist within this generation because they can be vast. Finding your brand’s sweet spot along the millennial continuum means rolling up your sleeves and doing the research, both qualitative and quantitative.

That said, as if cracking the code to this generation wasn’t hard enough, it turns out the research game has changed, too. It is important you use the right tools and resources to engage this audience because let’s face it, no matter how many M&M’s and gift cards you offer, millennials aren’t interested in sitting behind a two-way mirror and being interrogated.

Here are a few ways you can up your millennial research game:

Fish where the fish are. Turns out the cliché is true, most of the millennial fish are on their phones. So engage them by doing surveys and/or online focus groups on their phone. Have them do homework that prompts them to use their phone as they would for any other aspect of their life by taking a video or Snapchat story.

Follow the experts. There are entire organizations dedicated to learning everything they can about millennials. Follow them. Listen to what they have to say. And use their knowledge, resources and data when your budget allows. Take a look at some gold standards like Cassandra, YPulse, or The Pew Research Center.

Cut the data. Quantitative data can be extremely useful when dissected in a meaningful and actionable way. Given the wide gaps along the millennial continuum, try cutting your data by millennial subgroups every 3 to 4 years, rather than drawing broad conclusions from the entire age range.

Stop guessing. Millennials, especially the older ones, grew up in an age where marketers were discovering all the new and different ways to communicate with their audience. This means they [millennials] are keenly aware when they’re being marketed to, which makes our jobs as marketers that much harder. So stop guessing. Do research that asks direct questions rather than a sequence of questions that, cobbled together, resembles a collective insight. Better yet, get them involved by inviting them to participate in crafting the idea or product through co-creation. It’s a more authentic way to generate insights and ideas that stick with this group, rather than trying to read between the lines and guess.

Consider this a PSA for those attempting to crack the millennial code. If you’re lucky, you’ll hit the mother load and strike a chord with the entire generation. But, a clear and focused approach would give you a better chance at creating a deeper connection with a highly engaged set of consumers.

You will never completely solve it, but you might get closer if you realize this is a generation that thrives on being different. Not just from other generations, but from one another. So don’t try to talk to them like they’re all the same. Do your homework, stick to behaviors rather than ages, and mind the millennial gap.

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